Trying to establish if it’s more interesting to write a story about the demise of Twitter or the rise of Threads. At the time of writing, Threads has garnered some 115 million new users according to Quiver Quantitative (QQ). Funnily, Threads stopped advertising the Thread count (pun intended) on July 11 so now QQ are using followers as a guide to new users.
What is Threads? It’s a new text based social media platform that allows for messages of up to 500 words that can include links and up to 5 minutes of video. It is the text version of Instagram. Part of it’s initial success is the opportunity to sign up using an established brand, Instagram. Marketing genius. Previous text based platforms, trying to rival twitter, could not achieve this level of adoption, even when Twitter users were seeking an alternative, because they did not have the existing database and the transition capability of Meta. Basically, they didn’t own Instagram or Facebook. Instagram has an estimated 1.3 billion active monthly users. You can sign up to Threads using your Instagram profile/account and have an immediate following and access to users that you follow.
There is a lot of commentary about Threads both online and offline. The commentary is from people who have signed up in the first week wishing for a return to the internet of yore, the ‘town square’ vibe that Elon Musk promised when he purchased Twitter, less than a year ago, for $44B USD. What made Twitter Twitter was the parasocial relationships that developed with a diverse set of users. We could finally actually converse with Obama (in the early days), see what Rhianna was launching next and get the scoop on an event, whether it be a crisis or something to attend. Twitter was the place that could act as Our ABC in disseminating up to the second information as something unfolded, like the 2020 NSW and Victorian bushfires or the 2022 floods in NSW. This was a service platform. It was in these moments that Twitter was at its best.
Anne Helen Petersen in her newsletter Culture Study describes in great, succinct detail what each of the social media platforms is best for what and how users express themselves is sometimes according to where their public message fits best. She summarises the platforms into categories where professionals stick to LinkedIn, family and community groups enjoy Facebook to spruik their public identity often aligned with a political stance and Instagram is a visual medium, for people to show their face and, let’s not forget, brand brand brand. TikTok is obviously for moving image and a smart, witty expose of something happening right now that you need to see and implement, pronto. Think dance choreography, on the fly psychology, make up tutorials and storytime.
Users seek a friendlier, less tribal, politically fuelled space that has current news and events from a citizen perspective, regardless of the citizen’s standing in society. A way to communicate with companies, individuals, journalists, politicians, celebrities and friends.
When you sign up for a Threads account you are met with a list of permissions, that includes the normal permissions that big tech request, like ALL OF YOUR DATA. Ted Goia of The Honest Broker, a music and culture writer posted a thread about Threads, where he remains shocked that there is no limit to what Meta will collect of your personal private internet use, right down to “Other Data”. Would could be left over from this list? And, actually, it becomes fairly obvious quickly that the only reason Threads exists is to collect more data.
Facebook has a reputation for privacy violations connected directly to user information and data, think Cambridge Analytica, where some 87 million Facebook users’ data were exposed to a private company that were employed to influence political outcomes by using digital media. Mark Zuckerberg does not have a commendable track record and we know that he continues to make decisions that ensure Facebook’s growth and dominance over individual users and national safety, see Washington Post’s expose from 2021.
However, we also see him as less unhinged as Elon Musk and some people will sign up to Threads as a way to tell Elon Musk how they feel. In June 2023, after Musk disabled Twitter’s content moderation team down to a skeleton, enforced fees for a blue tick and essentially stopped paying the bills, it is fair to say that Elon Musk is in financial distress and that Twitter is failing.
Threads might be the opportunity needed to rethink or reset the purpose and benefit of social media. Can people be assured that signing up for a new text based social media outlet won’t descend into chaos and criticism like Twitter and Facebook before it? Having an individual at the helm of influential and algorithmic systems means that there is already a narrow view of success. Success from a company perspective is having as many users as possible sign up and those users spend as much time in a day as possible on the platform. Alex Dobrenko posted 300+ Threads over a weekend, he noted one interesting development of Threads in that it had “managed to evade my supposedly big-on-privacy iPhone’s settings and it went buzz buzz buzz”. Argh. Seems like you cannot turn off notifications.
The current zeitgeist on phone use is generally one of ickiness. See Offline podcast for how to break your phone addiction. If the goal is not to be chained to our phones, then signing up to a new social media platform might not be a healthy choice. But, if you are seeking a healthier internet then go be the change, post what you want to see. May privacy be on your side.